By Jessica Strom Federman, CSA,
Community Outreach and Education Manager
Recently, a 77-year-old gentleman told me, “the golden years are tarnished ones.” I was sad to hear him say that; although growing old is an inevitable part of life, it can be extremely fulfilling. Acceptance of your current situation— whatever it may be—and seeking out meaningful experiences in which you can participate will help keep you more vibrant, more engaged and even a little healthier.
Many look forward to retirement as an opportunity to do the things they hadn’t been able to during their working years. Travelling and taking up (or revisiting) a hobby are common ways new retirees enjoy their time; this “honeymoon” phase can last several months or even years (Pittock). Finding meaning in these types of experiences is easy and enjoyable.
But as time moves forward, the reality of retirement sets in. The fast and busy pace of the honeymoon phase becomes stale, and after a period of low activity (what experts call the rest and relaxation phase of retirement (Pittock)), some retirees have trouble creating and adjusting to an everyday routine. This is a vital point of retirement, when we must seek out those meaningful experiences to prevent the “tarnishing” (as my friend so vividly put it) of this point in our lives. This doesn’t mean you must write the great American novel or develop a world-changing invention. What it does mean is by participating in activities that have meaning to you, you will feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It may take some effort on your part, at least initially, but it will become easier and well worth it over the long term.
Whether you want to be part of a group or prefer to be on your own, there are so many opportunities available if you’re seeking to add more meaningful experiences to your life—no matter what your age. Here I highlight just a few ideas to help you start exploring the possibilities.
Volunteerism. According to IndependentSector.org, nearly 44 percent of adults over 55 have volunteered over the past year. Not only does a volunteer realize the value of their experience on a personal level, but their efforts, combined with others throughout the country, realize a value of $77.2 billion to not-for-profit organizations and other causes. Choose a volunteer opportunity that will have meaning for you, and that you will enjoy doing; select a cause or organization you feel strongly about, so your enthusiasm and passion will shine through in your work. You may find some opportunities are designed especially for mature adults. For example, Richboro, Pennsylvania-based S.A.G.E. (Senior Adults for Greater Education) matches senior volunteers with students in three area school districts to provide enrichment to the curriculum. One volunteer I spoke with enjoyed bringing history to life as she shared her childhood toys with elementary school students during the holidays; in the spring, she enhanced their awareness of the world around them by pointing out unique wildlife that lived in their own school’s backyard. Each week, she looks forward to visiting with her students—and they eagerly anticipate her return to the classroom. For more information on S.A.G.E. (Senior Adults for Greater Education), visit www.beasage.com.
Spirituality. Whether or not you participate in organized religion, you may find spiritual activities hold meaning for you. Attend services at a house of worship or meditate quietly at home; observe holidays that evoke fond memories or help you feel more connected to yourself, your family and friends, your community. Spend time outdoors where you can focus on centering yourself. The bonus? Studies show that those who “who feel they are spiritual…experience lower levels of depression and anxiety; display signs of better health, such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes; and say they generally feel healthier” (WebMD).
Travel. Whether you’re 55 or 105, there are travel opportunities for you! Explore the world, answer questions you’ve had in your mind’s file cabinet for years, and learn about other cultures (and civilizations). Or just relax on a beach or by the pool in an exotic locale. Many find travel a fascinating way to enrich their lives. There are programs that bundle your travel experience to make it simpler to arrange. Programs such as Elderhostel do this and offer to adults over 55 what they call “learning adventures” all over the world, on topics ranging from the arts and history to cooking, health and fitness and so much more. Choose from brief trips of a couple days to more extensive excursions. According to this not-for-profit organization, patrons enjoy nearly 8,000 programs per year in 90 countries. For more information, visit www.elderhostel.org.
Jessica Strom, CSA, Director of Community Relations for Chelsea Senior Living, Jenkintown, PA, is an experienced senior living specialist committed to guiding seniors and their families through times of transition. She puts her industry knowledge, advanced training and personal experience to work for each client, resulting in knowledgeable, compassionate and personalized service.
Independent Sector. “America’s Senior Volunteers.” 2004. Accessed July 13, 2008.
Pittock, Edwin, Norm Bouchard and Elizabeth Vieck. Working with Seniors: Health, Financial, and Social
Issues. Society of Certified Senior Advisors, 2005.
WebMD. “Spirituality May Help People Live Longer.” 1999. Accessed July 13, 2008.